When The Flame Goes Out – Hold On!

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Matthew 25:1-13

Amos 5:18-24

 

I’m going to begin with a story I’ve told several times before.

I find it funny – but it doesn’t seem many other people do 😊

So I’m trying again….

 

In 5th grade our class got a new art teacher.

His name was Mr. Gassman. (It’s important to know his name – Mr. Gassman.)

 

I think it was his first art project with our class.

We were paired up in twos and my partner was Renee Matthews.

We moved our desks together

And in the space between our desks was a paper plate.

 

Mr. Gassman went around from desk to desk with a huge container of Elmer’s Glue,

And he poured from the container onto our plates what we would need for the project.

 

When Mr. Gassman reached our pair of desks,

I told him, “Fill ‘er up!”

 

That’s the story…

That’s it… “fill ‘er up!”

 

I tell the story not only to try see if I can tell it again in a way in which it’s funny…

But because the punchline is important for today:

 

What fills you up?

What is the oil for your lamp which keeps you burning?

What is the spiritual fuel you need?

 

For me, I think it’s hearing true stories about how

God surprises me – in particular, how God confronts me with my assumptions

And shows God is larger than I previously thought.

 

I heard one such story this week.

 

In April, 2015, in Lexington, KY

A pizza delivery man was robbed and killed by 3 men.

One of the men involved, Trey Relford, confessed to the crime.

He pled guilty and last month was time for his sentencing.

 

As often happens at the time of sentencing,

The judge allowed people who knew the victim to speak about the impact

The killing had on their lives.

 

The father of the pizza delivery man spoke.

And at the end, he said something amazing.

He spoke directly to Trey Relford and said, “I forgive you.”

 

Trey was sentenced to 31 years in prison.

After the sentencing the father of the delivery man walked up to Trey,

Put his arms around him, and said,

“I hope you find faith in prison.”

 

This was a remarkable story.

But there was more to the story –

The part which really challenged me…

The part which surprised me and puts oil in my lamp…

 

The father of the man who died is Muslim.

His name is Abdul Munim.

And when he went up to Trey he actually said,

“I hope you find Isalm in prison.”

 

When reporters asked him what led him to forgive his son’s killer,

He said, “The Spirit of Islam” led me to forgiveness.

 

When I first heard this story, I assumed it was a Christian who’d forgiven Trey Relford.

I was surprised and confronted with a God who was bigger than I could imagine.

That kind of story fills my lamp.

It keeps me burning.

 

The parable we heard from the gospel of Matthew

Is one of 3 stories Jesus tells in this chapter about the kingdom of heaven.

 

Jesus says the kingdom of heaven is like 10 young women.

5 of the women are wise;

And 5 are foolish.

 

The wise women go with their lamps to meet the bridegroom

And they bring along an extra flask of oil.

 

The foolish women go with their lamps to meet the bridegroom as well…

But they don’t bring extra oil.

 

As it turns out, the bridegroom is delayed,

And all ten women become drowsy and fall asleep.

At midnight, a shout goes out:

“The bridegroom is here!”

 

The 5 wise women with the extra oil, eagerly go to meet the bridegroom.

 

And here’s where I think the 5 foolish women make their mistake:

They assume that because their light is dim, the flame is going out,

They cannot meet the bridegroom…and so they leave.

 

They go away because they think they need enough oil,

Their flames needs to be bright,

Their candle must be fully burning in order for them to meet the bridegroom.

 

That’s a temptation many of us face….

We’re willing to show up,

To make ourselves be known,

When things are going well, when our candle is bright,

Our faith is strong, the flames burning…

But when the light is dim,

When we’re faced with doubts or struggles or brokenness,

We separate ourselves;

We go away – on our own;

We don’t trust that God will meet us precisely in the darkness.

 

Amos, the reading from the Old Testament paired with today’s gospel,

Knew that the Day of the Lord isn’t light – it’s darkness.

God shows godself most clearly in darkness – when the light is fading, when the oil has run out.

 

Amos wrote in the 8th century BCE.

It was a time of division – the northern and southern kingdoms were divided,

Each with their own king.

Amos was what my seminary professor called a “country boy.”

He was from the south, from Judah,

And he was a farmer – he herded sheep and took care of sycamore trees.

 

Amos brings a word of God to Israel – the northern kingdom.

And he says God has two problems with them:

  1. They are worshipping other gods;
  2. They are living in prosperity – and ignoring the poor.

 

Amos says that God does not care how they worship,

If they neglect the poor around them;

If they use their wealth more for their own comforts than to take care of the needs of the poor.

 

There is no reason for some to go without, Amos says.

God has provided.

 

The day of the Lord will come, Amos says.

And it will come in the darkness – after the lamp has gone out.

 

It will be a day of justice for all people.

 

And Amos uses a phrase that Martin Luther King quoted often…

On that day, Amos says to a people who live in the Isaraeli desert – a dry, arid land….

On that day,

“Justice will roll down like waters;

And righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”

 

When your oil has run out….

When it seems like justice is far away…

When the bridegroom is delayed…

 

Hold on…

Don’t leave…

Don’t give up….

The bridegroom will come even in the deepest darkness.

Don’t miss it!

 

Amen.

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For All The Saints

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November 5, 2017

Matthew 5:1-12

 

A year ago January – January, 2016 a homeless man died

            On the steps of Old South Church in Boston’s Copley Square.

                        He was found covered in a sheet and a blanket.

The death was particularly devastating to the congregation

            Because they were proud of their outreach work…

They’d reached out to those who were homeless in their neighborhood

            And provided food and clothing and resources for shelter.

 

That a man died on their steps was devastating.

 

One of the members of the church named Kathleen was an artist,

            And she had an idea to memorialize this man

                        Whose name they did not know.

 

She invited 15 other artists,

            Including those involved with ‘common art,’

                        An art program for those who are homeless connected to ‘common cathedral,’

                                    A street church in Boston.

 

She cut the blanket and the sheet of the man into 15 pieces;

            And they were invited to express for themselves

                        What it was like to live on the streets;

                        What it was like to lose a friend who died on the streets.

 

She took these 15 pieces and quilted them together.

            They became a memorial for the man who died,

                        And others who have died on the streets of Boston.

 

The memorial was placed inside the church.

 

It was important to Kathleen to make others know that this man mattered.

            That attention was paid to him.

“Attention must be paid!” as the line from “Death of a Salesman,’ goes.

 

In these blessings, these ‘beatitudes’ that we heard today,

            Jesus says, “attention must be paid” – attention to those whom most of us ignore.

 

Attention must be paid to the meek – not to the strong.

            Attention must be paid to those who hunger and thirst for righteousness –

                        Not for wealth or power.

Attention must be paid to those who are peacemakers,

            Those who mourn,

                        Those who are merciful.

 

These are the people Jesus says are worthy of our attention.

 

They aren’t the people who usually get our attention, though.

 

I tried to figure out who exactly are the people in our world we pay the most attention to –

            So I looked at Twitter…

 

Can you guess who are the people who have the most Twitter followers in the world?

 

The top 3 are:

  1. Katy Perry
  2. Justin Bieber
  3. Barack Obama

 

They are the wealthy and powerful and thereby famous…

            Not the people Jesus talks about.

 

Most of the saints we know were not wealthy or powerful.

            They were people like us.

 

Before we light our candles in memory of the saints,

            Let’s take a moment to reflect on who these saints are.

 

I’m using a reflection adapted from Bishop Mike Rinehart

            Of the Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod:[i]

Who are your saints?

Who went before you?

Who were giants of your childhood?

Who held your hand? Who taught you to walk?

Who are your saints?

Who taught you to pray?

Who taught you right from wrong?

Who brought you to the baptismal font?

Who taught you to see flowers and trees not as things, but as beautiful mysteries?

Who taught you to see majesty in clouds, and sunsets and oceans?

Who are your saints?

Who taught you kindness to strangers?

Who taught you to love your enemies?

Who taught you to care for those who are hungry, broken, or lonely?

Who taught you to love?

Who are your saints?

Who taught you to give of yourself, in order to discover what life was about?

Who taught you there was more to life than going to work, and accumulating wealth and things?

Who taught you it was okay to fail? That falling down is a part of life?

Who are your saints?

Who taught you to do what you love?

Who helped you discover your true gifts in life, and develop them?

Who loved you when you could not love yourself?

Who showed you grace and forgiveness you did not deserve?

Who taught you to forgive, and let go of grudges?

Who are your saints?

Who taught you to hope beyond this life?

Who taught you that there is more to life than meets the eye?

Who taught you to imagine what lies beyond the veil, around the bend where you cannot see?

Who speaks to you in your dreams, and in your prayers?

These are the ones we remember today.

These are the ones for whom we light our candles.

The communion of saints, who wait for us on a distant shore we cannot see over the horizon.

The multitude of apostles, prophets, martyrs and saints.

Even the flawed, deeply flawed saints.

So let us say our prayers and light our candles.

For the saints we remember.

And the saints whose names we never knew – including the man on the steps of Old South Church.

 

[i] https://bishopmike.com/

Reformation At 500

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Reformation at 500: What We Can Take And What We Can Leave Behind

October 29, 2017

 

500 years ago on Tuesday…

October 31, 1517, (or so the story goes),

Martin Luther posted 95 Theses on the door of Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany,

And the reformation was begun.

 

Since it’s the 500th anniversary,

There have been magazine and newspaper articles (I’m told there’s one today in the Washington Post);

There have been stories on NPR,

And a month ago, PBS broadcast a movie entitled,

“Martin Luther: The Idea That Changed the World.”

 

It begs the question, “which idea”?

Which idea changed the world?

 

Was it his theological idea –

Stressing the grace of God.

 

Or perhaps it was his education idea –

That there should be free public education for all children –

Boys and girls.

 

Or perhaps his idea about economics –

That a key function of government is to care for the poor-

So he formed this idea called the ‘community chest,’

Whereby towns would have a chest contributed into by those who had more resources to give to those in need.

 

Or perhaps it was his idea about marriage –

That marriage was more than a venue for procreation,

But also a means for companionship and even love –

Revolutionary ideas that Martin Luther had…

Which one changed the world?

 

1517 was in the era called the late Middle Ages.

 

It was a time of discovery in many ways –

Vasco da Gama and Columbus had traveled to places

Other Europeans had no idea existed before.

Copernicus discovered that the earth revolved around the sun,

And not the other way around.

Gutenberg developed the printing press,

And ideas could spread among the people.

 

It was an era of exciting social change.

 

But for the religious life of society,

Things weren’t so hopeful.

 

The people knew of the abuses.

The Western Schism was in recent memory

When there were 3 popes at one time,

All in opposition to each other,

And each ex-communicating each other.

 

Abuse and corruption within the church was known…

And there were efforts before Luther to reform.

 

In Spain, a national council had already outlawed the sale of indulgences.

In Italy, groups of reformers were meeting.

The people already were recognizing the importance of reading the Bible themselves.

The Polyglot version of the Bible in Latin, Greek and Hebrew had been published.

There was even already a German version of the Bible years before Luther’s translation.

 

So what about Luther was new?

What about him was different?

What about him made Time magazine name him as one of the 10 most influential people of the last millennium?

 

For one thing, it was Luther’s ability to speak to the people.

He could be vulgar and crude…

But he also could be engaging, compassionate and passionate.

 

When he taught at the University of Wittenberg,

It was not just his students who showed up in the lecture hall…

People from the community lined up around the room to listen to him speak.

 

Another engaging aspect of Luther is that over and over again,

He stressed a central question – it was a question which was personal to him,

But also one that struck the hearts of his hearers.

The question was, “Where can I find a gracious God?”

 

A seminary professor of mine once noted that the things which are most personal to us,

Can also be the most universal.

 

Luther found that to be so.

 

And so on October 31, 1517 he nailed 95 Theses on the door of Castle Church

(or maybe not – some scholars think he mailed them to the Archbishop of Mainz –

Or perhaps he did both).

 

Luther may have been naïve.

He fully thought that by sharing what he saw as abuses in the church,

He would be laying out some topics for debate –

For academic discussion –

For conversation about how the practice did or did not align with Scripture.

 

He was wrong.

 

There were errors on both sides of the Reformation.

 

The Roman bishops were wrong in that they refused to even consider Luther’s arguments.

They would not listen.

They would not discuss.

 

Luther was wrong because he had a bad habit of demonizing everyone who was opposed to his ideas.

He called the pope the Antichrist –

This does not create an atmosphere of dialog or discussion.

In later years, Luther did the same thing to others who did not agree to his reading of Scripture.

He demonized Jews who did not come to Christ as the Messiach.

He demonized the largely Muslim Turks.

 

There was error on both sides.

 

The German Lutheran theologian Wolfhart Pannenberg once said

That the existence of the Lutheran church

Is the best evidence there is to show that the Reformation was a failure.

It led not to dialog and reform,

But to division and discord.

 

Anniversaries of the Reformation have been marked throughout the centuries.

If you visit Wittenberg you can see dinnerware marking the 300th anniversary.

You can also see posters of Luther as a German national hero which is the way he was celebrated in 1917, in the midst of World War 1, the 400th anniversary.

 

But this year is different.

It has to be different.

 

This is the first centennial  we are observing in the ecumenical age.

This is the first centennial since Lutheran-Roman Catholic dialog

Began 50 years ago after Vatican II.

 

This is the first centennial when Reformation Sunday is marked not by

Roman Catholics reminding the faithful that Luther was a heretic who divided the church;

And Lutherans claiming that Lutherans were right and Catholics are wrong.

 

Instead as a result of dialog we have learned something very important

That it took 450 years to realize:

In the most important theological concern of the Reformation,

In Luther’s central question about “Where can I find a gracious God?”,

We actually agree!

Together we agree that we are made right with God (justified)

By grace through faith alone.

 

This discovery has something important to say to us today.

We are in a nation divided – by religion and politics.

 

Perhaps this Reformation we can learn from Luther –

From what he did right and from what he did wrong.

 

Perhaps we can stand up for what we believe – and protest if need be.

But also perhaps we can refuse to demonize those who believe differently.

Perhaps then, real dialog can take place…

And perhaps we will discover that in the central question –

The things most important – we may actually agree.

 

Thanks be to God.

Amen.

You Don’t Have To Be Dead To Be Raised From The Dead

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Ezekiel 37:1-14

October 9, 2017

 

I learned something important from my friend Roger:

“You don’t have to be dead to be raised from the dead.”

 

Today we conclude our series, “What Christians Believe And Why It Matters,”

And we’re looking at the last line of the Apostles’ Creed:

“I believe in the resurrection of the body and life afterlasting.”

 

Roger said,

“You don’t need to be dead to be raised from the dead.”

 

He says that it began innocently enough…

He and his wife would have a glass of wine with dinner.

They were foodies, and the wine was always good wine,

And paired well with whatever they were having to eat.

 

Roger had a stressful job,

And when he got home from work he like to have a glass of something to help him unwind.

And at night, when he watched sports on TV,

There’d usually be a glass at hand.

 

It began very innocently.

 

Well his wife was diagnosed with lung cancer.

And for awhile she was in and out of the hospital.

And Roger was anxious, and he was lonely,

And to help deal with the stress he would have more to drink than he had in the past.

 

His daughter was grown by now,

And she came back home for a visit to her parents,

And she was alarmed by the amount her father was drinking.

She confronted him..

And he got angry…and the visit didn’t end well.

 

One day Roger went out to his car and noticed that the passenger side window was missing.

He wondered if someone had sideswiped him when he was parked on the street,

And he just hadn’t noticed it until now….

 

And then one day he came out of the grocery store

And noticed that his car was parked kind of crooked-

He was parked in two spaces instead of one.

 

Once when on his way to visit his wife at the hospital,

He must have blacked out – he doesn’t remember what exactly happened.

He was taken to the ER and they checked him out and had him follow up with his own doctor.

As his doctor reviewed his test results,

He told Roger that his blood pressure was up,

He was a bit anemic, and his liver function tests were high.

 

The doctor asked if he could just ask Roger 4 questions – the so-called “CAGE” questions,

To get a better sense of his alcohol use.

 

So he asked Roger,

“Have you ever tried to cut down on your drinking?”

(The “C” in “cut down” is part of the CAGE questions.)

 

Roger said that he’d been thinking of cutting down –

Maybe after the holidays.

 

And then the doctor asked him the “A” question:

“Has anyone ever gotten annoyed with you about your drinking?”

 

And Roger remembered his daughter,

And his wife, too, had been irritated with him more recently.

He said, “Well, family members always get on your case about something, don’t they?”

 

And then the doctor asked,

“Have you ever felt guilty about your drinking?”

And Roger thought to himself that he had felt guilty – and ashamed.

He’d been hiding his stash – some in the car, some at work, some in the garage…

And he felt guilty when he lied about when he’d gone to the bar after work.

He acknowledged to the doctor that he did feel guilty at times.

 

And then the doctor asked the final question  of the CAGE questions –

He asked, “Have you ever had an eye-opener….a drink first thing in the morning?”

And Roger was indignant…

He said, “Never! I am not an alcoholic!”

 

The doctor replied,

“Well I am concerned about your alcohol use – let’s just make a plan for you to come back in two weeks. And in that time, can you agree that you won’t have anything to drink?”

 

Roger quickly mumbled his agreement and left the office.

He never returned.

 

I don’t know how much longer afterwards this happened,

But Roger had a friend who brought him to a meeting one night,

And then the next night,

And then the next one.

And Roger eventually became sober.

 

By the time I met him, he had been in recovery for about 10 years.

And he was a pastor.

And we would meet for breakfast once a week with other colleagues

To talk about the upcoming texts that we would be preaching on Sunday.

 

And when we got to the passages in Matthew about the ‘outer darkness,’

And the place where there is ‘weeping and gnashing of teeth,’

Most of us pastors would groan wondering how we could preach that –

Where is the good news of the gospel in those passages?

 

And Roger would laugh.

And he would say,

“I love preaching those passages….

Because I have been there…

I have been to the outer darkness.

I have been to the place of weeping and gnashing of teeth.

I have been in hell.

 

You don’t have to be dead to be raised from the dead.”

 

When we talk about eternal life and heaven and hell,

usually the talk is about after death.

 

We wonder what heaven looks like…is there an after life at all?

 

The Creed says most definitively ‘Yes.’

 

The Bible has surprisingly little about what heaven is like.

In Revelation we have the image of streets paved of gold.

But in the gospels when Jesus speaks about the kingdom of heaven,

He most often uses a different image – that of a wedding feast.

 

Wedding feasts in his day were lavish affairs.

They go on for days and were filled with joy and laughter,

Eating and singing and dancing,

Family and friends.

 

The image of a wedding feast is perhaps as good an image as any

For heaven, for the after life.

 

But…you don’t have to be dead to be raised from the dead.

Jesus also talked about eternal life not as beginning some day in the future after we die..

But right here and now.

 

In our reading from Ezekiel, it’s helpful to have some context…

 

In 597 BCE, the Babylonians conquered and destroyed Jerusalem.

Many of the Jewish people living there were deported –

They were taken back to Babylon (modern day Iraq) to live.

This is often called the ‘Babylonian Exile.’

 

Ezekiel was one of the people who had been deported.

 

Life in exile felt like utter darkness.

There was physical suffering.

There was communal suffering – they were separated from their people and their communal identity in Jerusalem.

 

But perhaps most significantly, those in exile experienced a spiritual crisis.

Jerusalem and the temple were gone.

God had promised that the reign of King David would endure forever – and the monarchy was gone.

And the Jewish people began to wonder….Is the Babylonian god more powerful than God?

 

And so we get to the part of the story we heard in today’s reading.

 

God brings Ezekiel out to this valley – and there in the valley are dry bones.

There were many bones….and they were very dry…the text says.

 

The word ‘bones’ in Hebrew means our deepest self;

Our existential self.

(Recall in Genesis when Adam meets Eve and he says,

“This at last is bone of my bones!”)

 

There were many bones and they were very dry in Babylon.

 

God points to the bones and asks Ezekiel,

“Can these bones live?”

 

Of course the obvious answer would be ,”No.”

But Ezekiel is with the Lord…

So he replies, “You know, Lord.”

 

And then God says to Ezekiel,

“Prophesy to these bones…

Speak to these bones and tell them the Word of God…

Tell them that bone will come together on bone;

And I will place sinews on them;

And flesh and skin;

And then I will breathe on them – and they will live!”

 

So Ezekiel speaks to the bones.

And suddenly he hears something – he hears a rattling sound….

And sure enough, the bones start to come together;

And sinews connect them,

And flesh and skin cover them..

 

But as yet there is no life…the breath (in Hebrew ‘ruach’ – the Spirit)

Has not yet come into them.

 

So God says, “Prophesy to the breath…

Call the Spirit from the 4 ends of the earth to come into these bones that they may live.”

 

And Ezekiel prophesies to the breath…

And God’s spirit, God’s breath comes into the bones which were once so very dry,

And they stand up…and they live.

 

You don’t have to be dead to be raised from the dead.

 

I don’t know where your dry bones place is…

Perhaps it’s Las Vegas…

Perhaps it’s Puerto Rico or the US Virgin Islands or Florida or Texas…

Perhaps it’s within your family relationships,

Or work or with friends.

 

Where is the place where it seems like utter darkness?

Where there is “weeping and gnashing of teeth”?

 

God says, “Prophesy to the breath – call on my Spirit,

And these bones will live!”

 

Roger knew firsthand that bones – even very dry bones – could live.

And so he preached with joy over and over,

“You don’t have to be dead to be raised from the dead!”

 

I believe in the resurrection of the body and life everlasting.

 

Amen. Thanks be to God.

Faith Story

Shared at worship on October 1 by Katie

This week I received a text from a girl that I’d gone to elementary school with who I hadn’t spoken to in over four years.  It was odd because even though she and I had been really good friends in 4th and 5th grades, we’d had a big falling out.  So, I see her name pop upon my screen and I’m thinking, “Wow, this is weird.  We haven’t spoken in years.  What does she want? Why is she texting me?”
So I did what I feel a lot of teens would have done, I didn’t open it right away.  But now, I just had the little green icon sitting on top of my messages, staring back at me.
I ignored it for awhile, but it was driving me crazy, so I opened it.
“Hey, Katie, I just wanted to reach out and say I’m sorry for being so mean in elementary school.  Looking back I realized that I was extremely rude and unkind.  I was so worried about being ‘cool’ and ‘popular’ I didn’t care about treating nice and caring people right.  Now, I’m over that and have reflected back on my actions and am disappointed in myself.  I wish I had been a better friend.  Hope everything is well and that high school is treating you well.  Best Wishes.”
I was shocked that she actually remembered what she’d done and had the strength to reach out and apologize.  Honestly, I’d held a grudge against her up until this summer.  I was at this camp called TEY or Theological Education with Youth.  We were in our small groups just talking about life and school and some of our not so fun experiences.  She popped into my head.  I thought about what had happened and how long ago it had happened.  We were in elementary school which was so long ago and now she’s probably changed.  I need to forgive her and move on.
So, I responded to her.  “Hey!  Wow, that was so long ago!  I forgive you.  I hope you have a great rest of your year!”
Forgiveness is important for many reasons.  Not only for the person that you’re forgiving, but also for you.
It’s important to let yourself move on.  The person who did you wrong most likely doesn’t remember what they did, so your holding a grudge does you more hurt than anyone else.  Let yourself grow from it.  Don’t get stuck in the past.  You will never be able to change it.

Choosing Forgiveness

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Genesis 50:15-21

October 1, 2017

 

In 1984, a man was shot and killed at a gas station in St. Louis.

Witnesses said the perpetrator was about 5’5” and light-skinned.

Nevertheless, Darryl Burton was called to the station for a line-up.

Darryl is 5’10” and dark-skinned.

 

There were two witnesses, both with upcoming trials,

And prosecutors had made a deal with them that if they testified,

They’d receive lesser sentences.

 

Darryl met with his public defender for about an hour.

After the trial, the jury deliberated for about an hour.

And they convicted him.

He was given a life sentence without parole – for a crime he did not commit.

 

Darryl was shocked.

He didn’t think it was possible they could convict him –

An innocent man – who didn’t even look like the person witnesses saw.

 

He was sent to Missouri State Penitentiary –

A prison known to be one of the most violent in the nation.

He recalls seeing a banner as he walked through the gates…

The banner said something like this:

“Welcome To Missouri State Penitentiary.

Leave Behind Your Family, Your Hopes, and Your Dreams.”

 

Darryl had a long time in prison to ponder his predicament.

He felt anger well up within him at being wrongly accused, wrongly convicted, wrongly imprisoned.

 

He wasn’t much of a church goer,

But his grandmother was, and he remembered something she had said to him long ago.

She said,
“One of these days, boy, you’re going to need Jesus.

And I hope you remember to call on him.” Continue reading

So God Made The Church

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Matthew 9:35-10:8

September 24, 2017

 

Today we continue our series,

“What Christians Believe and Why It Matters,”

And today we’re looking at the phrase from the Apostles’ Creed:

“I believe in the holy catholic church, the communion of saints.”

 

What is the church – and how is it holy and catholic?

 

Perhaps it’s best to give an example of how I think

We as a church were holy and catholic this week…

 

Several days ago I got a call from Kari Galloway, the executive director of Guest House.

Many of you know that Guest House, just a couple of blocks down the street,

Is a residential program for women who have been incarcerated.

 

Kari was calling because one of their clients was in need.

She had a baby who was born at fullterm but stillborn..

She was calling various churches to see if they could help this young mother with burial expenses.

 

Well, about 20 years ago, Good Shepherd was gifted with a burial plot at a cemetery in town.

We didn’t have much time to figure this out,

So we sent an email to our council members to see if they would agree

To gift this cemetery plot to this mother so she could bury her child.

 

Within a few hours (that itself was a miracle!) we had a unanimous ‘yes.’

 

This is what it means to be the ‘holy’ church…

The church that isn’t perfect, yet is ‘set apart’ for God’s purposes.

The church is holy when it acts on behalf of God.

I can think of nothing more holy than to give a mother a place to bury her son.

 

But there’s more to this story….

The church is also ‘catholic’ – meaning not Roman Catholic,

But universal – everywhere.

 

I visited this mother at her apartment.

She talked about her pregnancy.

She had had twins, but one died at 8-9 weeks.

The rest of the pregnancy seemed to be fine – until it wasn’t.

Two days before she delivered,

She stopped feeling the baby move.

Her obstetrician confirmed that the baby had died.

 

After giving birth, the mother cradled her young son for two days in the hospital.

She showed me a memento box that the hospital had given.

I untied the ribbon on the lime green box and looked inside.

There was a footprint of the baby,

A tiny bracelet someone had made with his name.

And there were photos.

 

Nurses had taken photos of the baby and his mother –

These were precious to his mother.

 

After looking at these items I told the mother that we could have a memorial service

At the church if she would like…

She looked at me and said, “Really? That would be okay?”

You see, she’d never been part of a church –

She didn’t know that it was possible to have a memorial service at a church where she wasn’t a member.

 

The memorial service will be here on Saturday morning.

 

The church is ‘catholic’ – it is universal – it is everywhere the gospel is proclaimed;

Especially when it is proclaimed to a young mother who has never been part of a church,

But who has lost a child and wants to pray.

 

I believe in the holy catholic church.

 

This morning we welcome new members…

 

As Brice and Paige and Maja and Billy and Nicole and Matthew and Sarah join us in mission,

we are reminded once again that none of us ‘belongs’ to this church or any church –

Rather we are the church – we become the holy catholic church,

Not perfect, but Set apart for God’s purposes.

 

Andy Stanley is a pastor who writes a lot about the ‘church.’

One of the things he’s noted about the church in the New Testament

Is that its “primary activity is to one another one another.”

 

Let me say that again:

The primary activity of the church is to one another one another.

 

The greek word for ‘one another’ is allolethon –

And according to Stanley, the word occurs 59 times in the New Testament….

 

This is the activity of the church:

Encourage one another;

Serve one another;

Forgive one another;

Bear one another;

Be kind to one another;

Teach one another;

Show hospitality to one another;

Guide one another;

Love one another – and love one another – and love one another – and love one another –

This is repeated about a dozen times in the NT.

 

The primary activity of the church is to one another one another.

 

In our reading from the gospel of Matthew,

Jesus is traveling from cities and villages in Galilee,

Teaching about the kingdom of God

And healing people.

 

Crowds gather around him and Jesus is filled with compassion.

He realizes he can’t do all this one anothering by himself;

He needs more people – more laborers for the harvest.

 

And so he makes the church…

He commissions his disciples to do what he’s been doing –

To help in the one anothering.

 

The primary activity of the church is to one another one another.

 

Some you probably remember a Super Bowl ad from 4-5 years ago….

I don’t remember what it was advertising,

But Paul Harvey’s voice is in the background,

And the title of the piece is “So God made a farmer.”

 

Well with apologies to Paul Harvey,

Here is “So God made the church.”:

 

And on the 8th day, God looked down on earth and said,

I need a caretaker….

So God made the church.

 

God said I need somebody willing to get up in the morning,

And notice the sun as it’s rising

And the birds singing,

And the leaves that are changing color

Who doesn’t take it for granted,

But sees it all as a gift that needs care for future generations….

So God made the church.

 

God said I need somebody willing to sit up all night by the bed of an old woman,

And when she dies, to give thanks for her life,

And bring casseroles and write cards and make telephone calls

To family members.

So God made the church.

 

It had to be somebody who was willing to come home late

And yet would stop for an hour to help a neighbor fix his car,

or attend a choir rehearsal – all before supper.

So God made the church.

 

And God said I need somebody who will pay attention to the news,

Who will look at laws not for the sake of themselves,

But for the sake of the poor,

For the sake of peace,

For the sake of justice.

So God made the church.

 

God said I need somebody to help…

After hurricanes and earthquakes;

And tsunamis … and war.

And I need somebody to speak truth in South Africa

And to march in Montgomery.

So God made the church.

 

I need someone strong enough to carry food to the food pantry

And gentle enough to cry at a baptism.

So God made the church.

 

God said I need somebody to pray and teach and quilt and cook and sing,

And give and serve and feed and share

…And hope and dream and laugh …and finally to rest.

So God made the church…

 

So God made the church…the holy catholic church.

 

Amen.